Albert Lea insurance agent helps build New Orleans playground

Published 9:14 am Friday, December 5, 2008

A new playground is the focus of renewal for a neighborhood in New Orleans’ flood-ravaged lower Ninth Ward. Last weekend an Albert Lea insurance agent was part of a 270-person crew that installed playground equipment at the site.

Randy Cirksena joined other State Farm Insurance agents and a contingent of U.S. Marines in a seven-hour building project designed to serve a new modular school, consisting of 50 to 60 portable classrooms. The previous school was leveled after serious damage was inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. A recently constructed hospital stands empty nearby, another victim of the storm’s fury.

Abramson Science & Technology Charter School will be enhanced by the new playground. The new school is one of 66 schools in the Recovery School District, a special district administered by the Louisiana Department of Public Education.

Email newsletter signup

Last Friday dawned wet and blustery in the Crescent City, but it didn’t dim the enthusiasm or the work ethic of the construction crew. The day began earlier for Cirksena than most of the workers, as he had to be at the worksite by 5 a.m. He was one of four team captains at the playground site who had to supervise the installation of the playground equipment.

The worksite had been cleared and holes for piping drilled by KaBoom and AmeriCorps prior to the beginning of last week’s construction. KaBoom is a 12-year-old national nonprofit organization that has led the building of more than 1,500 playgrounds, pairing community leaders with corporate sponsors to build play areas for kids. AmeriCorps is a federally mandated network of service programs intended to engage Americans in intensive efforts to provide needed services in public safety, health, education and the environment.

Operation Playground, a KaBoom-sponsored initiative, builds playgrounds in Gulf Coast communities affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Cirksena said 16,000 pounds of cement were poured at the playground using wheelbarrows and hand labor.

This was the third trip to New Orleans for Cirksena since the hurricane blasted the city in Aug. 2005, and the second work project he has been involved in there. Many changes have occurred in the ethnic makeup of the lower Ninth Ward since the floodwaters receded, Cirksena said.

“Most of the people who lived here before Katrina were African-American. The new immigrants are mostly Russians who have come here to work,” Cirksena said.

The modular charter school has classes from kindergarten through 10th grade and primarily serves the children of the new immigrants. A 12-foot fence was erected around the school and playground complex to protect against vandalism.

Returning New Orleans residents are credited by Cirksena with being a main driving force in the city’s recovery efforts.

“These people are there because they want to rebuild their lives,” Cirksena said.

A New Orleans resident who provided transportation for the work crews related a sad story to Cirksena.

The driver’s brother was in military service and was called in to help with hurricane relief efforts. The massive pumps that help keep water out of the city were sometimes operating slowly, or even stopping altogether. An investigation revealed that human bodies were gettting into the pumps, stalling their operation. The driver’s brother asked to be restationed.

State Farm has long been a sponsor of the Bayou Classic, an annual football showdown between Grambling State and Southern University. The company’s involvement in the Bayou Classic helped lead it into involvement in relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina struck. Cirksena said that the relief efforts in New Orleans are part of an ongoing commitment by State Farm to the communities which they serve nationwide.